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February 17, 2015

Get Lazy Colleagues to Pull Their Weight!

Caroline Smith

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Have you ever found yourself in a situation where someone in your team is frequently less proactive or busy than you?

Every time you look over at their computer screens, they’re surfing the web, catching up on the sports results, or sharing photos on social media. All the while, you’re frantically working on your own tasks, while picking up theirs as well, and they don’t even seem to care!

Arguably, a worse situation is when the lazy person in question is your boss. Perhaps he delegates menial work to you because he has other commitments (or because – you suspect – he doesn’t want to do it himself). However, far from being busy, all he seems to do is take coffee breaks, shoot the breeze on the phone with his girlfriend, and make personal appointments!

It's particularly tricky getting slack colleagues to buck their ideas up when you’re not their manager. If you tackle them about it directly, they might argue that you don't have the authority to tell them what to do, and you could risk your relationship turning sour. And when it comes to your manager, if you approach him in the wrong way, you could end up damaging your long-term career prospects at your organization.

In the past, I have been in a situation where a colleague of mine didn’t pull her weight. She was working temporarily before going back to college, and just didn’t have the same drive and commitment as the rest of the team. Her timekeeping was poor, she often did only the bare minimum to get by, and I was invariably left to pick up the pieces.

The way I tackled it was through my boss. At the end of our weekly one-on-one, I mentioned I was snowed under with work because I’d had to do some extra research on a project, which he'd asked my colleague to do. I also slipped into the conversation that she’d been late a couple of times that week, and suggested he ask her if anything was wrong. Gently raising these couple of points prompted my manager to bring the matter to her attention. I don’t know what he said to her but, after that, we didn’t have any further problems.

We recently asked for your suggestions about “how to tackle colleagues who don’t pull their weight” on social media, and we received some interesting responses via Twitter and Facebook, so thanks very much for your contributions!

@txellet recommends addressing the "laziness" issue with the person in question. Perhaps the idle colleague is doing a task that is too challenging, or she doesn’t know how to do it, so she passes it on to someone who can. Rather than being lazy, her behavior might just be because she doesn't want to admit she can’t do something. In which case, you can offer to help her.

@Intrapreneur suggests being candid with the person, but doing so sensitively and one-on-one. He may have some personal issues, which is why it’s better to approach him tentatively. The worst thing would be to go in all guns blazing, accusing him of being lazy, if he was actually suffering from illness or a trauma in his life.

Mbadugha Peter also emphasizes the importance of tackling the issue privately, as well as that managers should make a conscious effort to appreciate those who consistently pick up other people’s slack. A simple “thank you” to team members who help others and take on additional duties goes a long way.

Finally, Yean-nee Shortland posted that whoever tackles the issue should explain to the individual about the importance of teamwork, such as sharing responsibilities, pulling together, and being supportive of your colleagues. Without this, you’re just a collection of people pulling in different directions rather than a team coming together with the same goal in mind.

If you have any suggestions about how to tackle colleagues who aren’t pulling their weight, we’d love to hear your #mindtoolstips. Share your stories below!

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11 comments on “Get Lazy Colleagues to Pull Their Weight!”

  1. I also agree that the 'laziness' could be due to a lack of motivation. However, I also feel that some people believe they can 'show up' and just get by. It's the manager's responsibility to be aware of the activities of their direct reports, and to monitor. If it seems that someone on their team is not pulling their weight, they should work with that person to guide them. The goal is to make them more valuable in their job. If the employee isn't willing, though, it's best to ask them to move on than to weigh down the other team members.

  2. Having a good manager/project leader makes a huge difference. The manager should divide the work and assign to team members then set deadlines through out the project period. The manager would then meet with each team member at the set deadlines and evaluate the work. Having one person in the know on how it is all coming together is important and setting deadlines helps team members to overcome the natural tendency for procrastination. Also, the manager can catch any mistakes or difficulties before matters progress greatly in the wrong direction. Setting deadlines is very much like what a teacher does for students.

  3. What to do if your boss is not letting you go further and let you down for whatever you do due to lack of confidence in him and killing your ability which makes you a bit lazy as why to make extra efforts when we know that we are gone to get moral down in all conditions.

    1. It's important to have regular catch-ups with your boss so you can discuss the work you are doing and how you're progressing. This will give you both the opportunity to address any issues. Feedback should be two-way, so if you feel that you're not getting the right support from your manager, maybe you should say so?

  4. Don't gossip about the team member. Instead, approach them or the team leader and communicate in a calm and open manner to find a way to jointly correct the issue at hand.

  5. Thanks Nancy, Laura and Jo, for sharing your thoughts on how to tackle a lazy colleague.

    Motivation can be challenging, and many factors may impact on things. Sometimes a person's lack of motivation may not be the work itself, but it's outside issues going on.

  6. I think what we sometimes perceive as "laziness" could be a deep feeling of insecurity. They'd rather not do something than do it wrong.

    1. Thanks very much for everyone's comments - it's obviously a topic that touches a nerve! Mika - I've come across people who pass on tasks to their staff because they don't know how to do them or just don't want to do them. But I think it's important for managers to try and understand what's involved in even the most menial tasks. I always make sure I understand what it is that I delegate - to not do so can be a form of laziness.

  7. working nightshift in a nursing home. 2 of us plus an RN looking after 65 residents, asked my co worker to help by making a bed, her reply oh what if someone buzzers? I asked the RN to tell her to help , by also making some cups of teas, the co worker didn't like it and made a fuss. ANY wisdom would be a help.

    1. Thanks Anne for sharing your work situation. When someone does not pitch in and help out, particularly when you are so few to take care of so many, it can indeed be tough. I wonder whether a team meeting where you all discuss what needs to be done and how you might work more effectively together could make a difference. We have an article regarding 'team charters' which might help you develop a basis for working more effectively together. Here is the link: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_95.php

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